BRUSSELS -- Germany and Italy have committed to join the United States in helping to train Afghan troops after combat operations cease at the end of next year, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Wednesday.
Absent from the announcement was reference to the closest U.S. ally, Britain, which has been the second-largest source of troops in the 11-year war in Afghanistan. Britain is expected to contribute to the training and mentoring, but has not yet pledged a specific role in what promises to be a dramatically reduced international mission 18 months from now.
Germany will take the lead in the north of Afghanistan and Italy in the west, diplomats said after a meeting of North Atlantic Treaty Organization defense ministers in Brussels, while Mr. Hagel said Turkey is considering becoming the lead nation in the capital, Kabul.
They spoke after NATO defense ministers met behind closed doors and agreed on a "concept of operations" for a "train, advise and assist" mission in Afghanistan beginning in January 2015.
Pakistan swears in PM
ISLAMABAD -- Nawaz Sharif was named Pakistan's prime minister for a record third time Wednesday.
Mr. Sharif's swearing-in Wednesday marked the first time that a democratic Pakistani government has completed a five-year term in office and passed on the baton to another popularly elected administration. Mr. Sharif previously served twice as prime minister in the 1990s, with his second term terminated by a 1999 coup staged by the army chief, Gen. Pervez Musharraf.
Mr. Sharif took office with Pakistan fighting two simultaneous civil wars. The economy is at a virtual standstill, unemployment is rife, per capita income has fallen below $1,000, poverty-driven violent crime has reached alarming proportions, and massive power and fuel shortages have halved national production.
IMF admits bailout failures
WASHINGTON -- The International Monetary Fund acknowledged on Wednesday that it made "notable failures" in the Greek bailout, underestimating how much the austerity measures it pushed would pinch the country's already faltering economy.
The IMF made the unusually frank admission in an evaluation of how it handled Greece's debt crisis, which triggered financial turmoil across the eurozone.
The Greek economy has been kept afloat for the past three years by rescue loans from Europe and the IMF in exchange for harsh austerity measures that have worsened the recession, currently in its sixth year. It has so far received about 200 billion euros ($258.8 billion) in loans from a rescue program totaling 240 billion euros ($310.5 billion)
While the measures have reduced Greece's budget deficit, they have left the country mired in a much deeper recession than what the IMF and its European partners in the bailout forecast three years ago. Unemployment is 27 percent.
Leak found in nuke plant
TOKYO -- The operator of the stricken Fukushima nuclear plant said Wednesday that it had found a leak in one of the hundreds of steel tanks used to store radioactive water at the plant, raising renewed questions about the company's ability to handle the plant's cleanup.
The discovery comes a day after the operator, the Tokyo Electric Power Co., or TEPCO, admitted that it had found cesium particles in groundwater flowing into the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant, reversing earlier claims.
Activists present demands
ANKARA, Turkey -- Activists on Wednesday presented a list of demands they said could end days of anti-government demonstrations that have engulfed Turkey, as trade unions joined in the outpouring of anger, shouting slogans and wielding banners calling on the prime minister to resign.
Thousands of union members on a two-day strike marched into Istanbul's landmark Taksim Square and central Ankara in a show of support for protesters angry at what they see as Recep Tayyip Erdogan's increasingly authoritarian rule. Police used tear gas and water cannons to break up the gathering in Ankara after allowing demonstrations to continue for some eight hours.
The activist group urged the government to halt Taksim Square redevelopment plans, ban the use of tear gas by police, immediately release detained protesters and lift restrictions on freedom of expression and assembly.
It also demanded that officials responsible for the violent crackdown be removed from office.
The protests appear to have developed spontaneously and remain leaderless. It was not at all certain that the tens of thousands of protesters would heed any call by the group to cease.
Bulent Kilic/Getty Images
Turkish youths chant Wednesday as they protest on the route between Besiktas and Taksim in Istanbul. Thousands of striking workers took to the streets of Turkey's cities on Wednesday, loudly joining calls for Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to step down, as mass protests against his rule intensified.
-- Compiled from news services